ZAHRA by Denise Newton
“Ma’am, would you please step to one side?” The official was polite but firm. There was no option: Zahra obeyed his directive. She adjusted her headscarf with her free hand. It trembled a little. She tried to hide the hand under a fold in her long jacket. Everything about her – her clothes and her spirit -had become a little creased on the flight from Kabul. She was very tired.
The official led her behind the bustling immigration area to an interview room. It was quiet inside. Zahra saw four chairs and a desk. There was a large round clock above the desk. The other walls were all white: blank white walls. Another official, dressed in the same uniform as the first, sat on one of the chairs. She indicated that Zahra should sit on the chair facing her. Zahra did so, slipping her hands – both of them shaking now – inside her sleeves. She would not show these people her fear.
The second official had Zahra’s passport. She leafed through the pages, glancing up once or twice. After several long moments she said, “What is the purpose of your visit to Australia?”
Zahra replied, carefully as she’d rehearsed “To visit my son. He is very sick.”
“And where does he live?”
“He lives in an apartment in Bankstown.”
“How long do you plan to stay?”
“Just one month.” Zahra’s mouth was dry. It was hard to pronounce the English words properly. She must say everything properly. For Hanif’s sake. For her son.
“Is your son an Australian citizen?” It was the man this time. He’d come to sit near Zahra. He was too close to her. His knee was touching her thigh. She tried to move back a little in her chair. She wanted to spring to her feet, to run outside and away from these people in the uniforms. But that would mean she would not see Hanif. She had to see Hanif. So she breathed out slowly and answered the man: “No, he is not citizen. He has temporary visa.”
“How can we be sure that you will return to Afghanistan at the end of the month? That you won’t try to stay here?” The man was frowning at her now. He frightened her. Did he mean to be frightening? Zahra didn’t know.
“I leave in one month. I see my son, then I leave. I want to nurse my son. He may die…he is sick. Very sick.”
“I’m sorry, Mrs.Asadi.” The woman stood up .”We cannot verify your visa documentation. We cannot allow you to enter Australia until this is done. You will need to stay in a detention centre until we have checked your credentials.”
The man took her arm to lead her from the room. Zahra turned her head to look at his face, searching for some understanding or compassion. The man had stopped frowning. His face was blank: it was empty.
As I work on re-drafting and editing my first draft, I am more conscious of the fear evoked by the thought of eventually putting my work out into the world. I know it’s common to writers, artists and others who work in creative pursuits. I suppose because when we write, compose music, or paint, we put a fair chunk of ourselves into whatever we are creating. It’s natural to be tentative about inviting a response from others.
In response to that fear, I’m working on making my story the best it can be. And when I’m satisfied I’ve taken it as far as I can on my own,that’s when I’ll invite others to read my work and give me feedback and suggestions. Yikes!
In the meantime, I can take baby steps in other ways. Submitting short stories to competitions, for example. Reading little pieces at a writer’s group meeting. Posting blogs. It’s all part of the process of putting my writing (and therefore myself) out there. Small steps. One at a time, each building on the ones before.
I’m so excited about the magic date of 29th October .. it’s when the online version of the ‘Write Your Novel’ program with the Australian Writers Centre begins. I’ve signed up and I can’t wait to start!
My motivation is that I have a first draft of a first novel that needs work…and since completing that first draft, I’ve been feeling a little at sea with how to approach what needs doing. This program, suitable for those with a chunk of a first draft or a completed one, will be invaluable for me. To go step by step through a manuscript, working out structural issues, plot development, pacing, character and dialogue; with help from an experienced editor tutor and a group of classmates all doing the same thing – wow.
Here’s the link to the Australian Writers Centre website about the course if it is something that might interest you:
Blue Mountains writers are blessed with resources, people and places to help learn the craft. This year I’ve attended two excellent workshops offered by Blue Mountains Library Services, and facilitated by local best selling author Julian Leatherdale. There’s a third workshop coming up in November: anyone want to join me?
Mountains of Stories – Creative Writing Workshop at Springwood Library with Lisa Chaplin
Sat Nov 10th 10:00am – 3:00pm
Blue Mountains Theatre and Community Hub, 104 Macquarie Rd, Springwood NSW 2777, Australia
Lisa’s Workshop will cover how to create characters, bring them to life and how to keep them true to themselves as well as how to create a precise and professional pitch that encapsulates your book and helps you ‘sell’ it to publishers.